Debate Prep: 10 Therapist-Approved Ways to Fight on Facebook

Use of gifs is highly recommended.


The second presidential debate is upon is! If you don’t plan to embargo that little blue “F” square from your thumb’s rolodex tonight, you’re about to be in for a wild ride. Because of all the things Facebook is good/terrible for — checking up on exes, immortalizing hideous photos, understanding the emotional inner workings of someone you lost touch with 17 years ago — fighting about politics might be the most ubiquitous.

I’d hypothesize that ineffective political discourse was the sole motivator behind the “unfollow” functionality Facebook introduced in 2013. It’s no surprise our news feeds seem constantly on the verge of combustion, considering the three core tenets: we go there to see (1) the unfiltered thoughts and feelings of (2) everyone we’ve ever met, (3) none of whom are addressing each other face-to-face.

Aimee Hartstein, a seasoned psychotherapist who’s been practicing in New York for over 20 years and is an expert navigator of tricky conversations, told me that last part is key. “Something has really been lost as our central mode of communication has evolved from in-person to over computer,” she said. “It’s much easier to depersonalize the human being on the other end of the computer when you can’t see or hear them. When people don’t have to see the other person’s face, they tend to say things that they would never say otherwise.” I’ve never co-signed anything harder.

Guys: remember rule #5 in our presidential debate drinking game (which still applies tonight, by the way): “Fix yourself an Aperol Spritz whenever you’re forced to unfollow a friend on Facebook.” Maybe you want to drink 17 Aperol Spritz’s tonight, I don’t know you! But maybe you don’t, which is why I asked Aimee to talk us through how to engage in political conversations on Facebook without losing several friends or running out of Aperol. (This is not sponsored by Aperol, promise.)

Below are her helpful tips for having a discourse with — and this is key! — people you deem worthy of your time, i.e. neither bigots nor strangers. I’ve also included some status and response ideas, which you can feel free to copy and paste.

1: Be realistic about your goal.

“Unfortunately, we have very little chance of actually changing the minds of someone else on the political divide. Most of us are married to our own ‘facts’ (true or not). Remember, if people do switch from one party to another, it’s rarely because a friend convinced them they were wrong on Facebook.”

Status idea: What’s politics? Like this status if you like cookies.

2. Make it personal to you.

“Before you post about your political views, consider making your argument or point a bit more personal or intimate. This will remind your adversary that you are a human being, which can really go a long way.”

Status idea: If Trump would like control of my body, maybe he can come help me with these cramps rn. *sob*

3. Educate yourself on the other side.

“If you are really committed to having a sane, rational discussion with someone on the other side of the political aisle, the best thing you can do is put yourself in their shoes. Educate yourself about their political views.”

Response idea: I’m trying to see your side, but your boat shoes are very uncomfy.

4. Find common ground.

“If you respect the person enough to give them your time, also give the person the benefit of the doubt by assuming they aren’t stupid and that, even if you disagree, their argument must have some merit. Find common ground between your differing perspectives and be respectful.”

Response idea: But you do agree Trump makes weird faces, right?

5. Make whoever you’re arguing with feel heard.

“If you want to feel heard, make them feel heard, too. Ask questions and repeat back some of their points so they know you are processing them.”

Response idea: Okay, so you don’t think I’m capable of making decisions about my own body? I did just eat an entire pint of ice cream, so I do see your point in some respects…

6. Be the bigger person.

“In the case of an ad hominem attack, always do your best to be the bigger person. Calmly point out that calling you names and insulting you has nothing to do with political discourse. You are never going to change the mind of someone who has devolved into assaulting your character, but you can hold your head higher.”

Response idea: I’m a bitch? You mean a bad bitch right? I do agree.

7. Cite your sources.

“In the case of mansplaining and condescension, the best course is to be rational and reasonable. Put your facts out there. Cite your sources. Let them know that you are educated and well-versed in the topic at hand. Do your best to keep your cool.”

Response idea: Here are the 42,355 science-backed articles that say otherwise. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

8. Use humor to cool a heated situation.

“If you’re very uncomfortable with the direction things are heading, a little light humor can go a long way towards calming everyone down. Make a joke about how heated things are getting.”

Response idea: ~This is so us~ 

9. Feel free to change the subject.

“There is room in your life for people who have different beliefs from you. People have more to offer than just their political persuasion. There is nothing wrong with a swift change of subject and simply agreeing to disagree.”

Response idea: I definitely get your point about foreign affairs, but let’s talk about the other kind of foreign affairs, know what I mean? 😉 😉 😉

10. Don’t engage at all.

“One of the possibilities is actually to do nothing! You’re not responsible for the words and behaviors of others. Just because it’s in your news feed doesn’t mean it’s your responsibility to moderate.”

Status idea: 👻

Photo by Krista Anna Lewis.

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